As frontman of the well-known rock band The Used hailing from Orem, Utah, Bert McCracken is far from inexperienced in both performing and interviewing. During SXSW, we were lucky enough to sit down and talk with the veteran rocker for a few minutes of his jam-packed schedule. Despite his experience, we chatted about how he still gets nervous to perform, his fondness of Australia and the new The Used record that’s coming out this month.
VM: The Used manages to combine heavy rock and roll with strong, catchy melodies. [What is] your main focus when writing a song?
Bert McCracken: My main focus is the lyrics first, then melody second. I grew up listening to Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Neil Diamond, and so I appreciate pop melody and pop sensibility. I want to write a song that I want to hear.
VM: You have a new album, Imaginary Enemy, coming out in April. What can we expect from your sixth studio album?
BM: It’s really a more selfless record than we have ever written. We wanted to ask some big questions about some really serious issues facing the world, inequality, and love and humanity, and what are we all doing not treating each other with respect…these kinds of things. So, we really keep the writing general enough so you can take it for what it means in your own personal life. But this record is going a bit deeper than we have before, and just like your typical Used record, I think there are a lot of colors that paint this canvas. So you have your heavier songs and your lighter songs and your more experimental stuff, but I think the focus is more on the consciousness of the message.
VM: How do you feel like you have evolved as a band and stayed relevant since starting out 13 years ago?
BM: I think the relevance is in part to do with our passion, and also directly a product of honest, pure love of music…there are a lot of bands out there like The Used that are just truly passionate about what they do, because they love music. And I think that is the most important thing for us – status aside, money aside, attention aside, everything else aside – other than this unadulterated love for music.
VM: Let’s talk about the heaven that is SXSW. What’s your favorite part of the Austin festival?
BM: My favorite part of SXSW is just the camaraderie and the freedom of music. There is a band here, there’s a band there, there’s a band there, there’s a band there – how great is that? Purely for the music.
VM: What’s the coolest venue or event that you’ve ever played?
BM: The Gorge in Washington is really awesome. It’s this outdoor venue that’s right in front of this cliff.
VM: What has been your most outrageous experience with a fan?
BM: There is a fan that has this fake leg that he always throws up on stage, and we always talk about it. He’s got a beer keg in his leg, so there’s a tap, and he’s got drawers, adult cigarettes and all. But we also had a Make a Wish Foundation cancer victim who chose to come spend a day with the Used in 2005, and we became super close. We talked on the phone all the time. His name was David Smith, and he lost his battle with cancer about a year ago. But that was the most outrageous fan experience.
VM: Do you still get nervous before you perform live?
BM: Very nervous. And if I didn’t, maybe I would need to re-evaluate my passion a little bit. I care a lot about what I do, and I want everyone to have a really amazing time. I want that healthy escape to be as enjoyable and memorable as possible.
VM: How have you managed to preserve your voice after years of recording and performing?
BM: I don’t know. I don’t think I have. I just take it easy, really really easy.
VM: Who are some of your biggest influences?
BM: I would say a Brazilian Revolutionary named Paolo Freire is one on my major influences. Noam Chomsky, T.S. Elliot, Umberto Eco, Charles Dickens…George Orwell is one of my main influences. I would say authors influence me a lot more than other artists. I am a writer first.
VM: If you weren’t making music, what do you think you’d be doing?
VM: So you have a pretty sweet set-up living in Australia. What is your favorite part about living in the land down under?
BM: I love the Australian way of kind of protected market systems. They have really strong protection for family-owned independent business. I think the whole world should feel that out.